Slovenia on Wednesday (23 June) became the 12th member of the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP), a regional forum (see 'Background').
The country has become the fourth EU member of this organisation following Bulgaria, Greece and Romania.
Slovenian President Danilo Tuerk, who is attending a SEECP summit in Istanbul, Turkey, said Slovenia was looking forward to being part of the initiative in this dynamic and promising region.
Diplomats told EurActiv that the fact that EU member Slovenia, a country neighbouring Austria and Italy, was interested in regional cooperation with the Western Balkans was "extremely encouraging".
"It means that initiatives such as SEECP and RCC work," said a diplomat from one of the more recent EU member states. On the negative side, he added that strengthening the format of regional cooperation could also be seen as a sign that the EU had no immediate plans to take onboard the EU hopefuls from the region, with the exception of Croatia.
The two-day Istanbul summit, which ends today and was attended by Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, marked the passing of the SEECP presidency baton from Turkey to Montenegro.
"I am fully confident that the momentum achieved under Turkey's presidency will be further increased with the Presidency of Montenegro," said Turkish President Abdullah Gül, quoted by the Turkish press.
Gül said Turkey dreamed of a Balkan region that embraces democratic values and the highest standards in human rights, fully integrated with the European and Euro-Atlantic organisations.
Turkey lobbies for Kosovo
The Turkish president also said developing extensive and comprehensive policies were the key to finding lasting solutions to existing problems in the Balkans.
He said those policies should embrace all countries in the Balkans including Kosovo.
"Regardless of our position on Kosovo's status, we should all make Kosovo a part of regional cooperation," said Gül.
Kosovo, which declared independence unilaterally on 17 February 2008, is not a member of SEECP. Two members of the regional body, Greece and Romania, do not recognise the former Serbian province as an independent state.
A Turkish spokesperson said the final declaration of the SEECP summit should mention that Kosovo should be accepted as a part of the region and the issue solved through diplomatic ways.
Gül concluded his speech with a call for concerted action against terrorism. "I believe that against this asymmetrical threat all countries should be in cooperation and solidarity and the international community should stand united against terrorism," said Gül.
In recent days, Turkey suffered from series of attacks by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels, who have killed more than 50 soldiers over the last two months in some of the worst fighting in years in the mainly Kurdish southeast.